Before dawn, the lime green and pink neon lights of the Cactus Café and Motel flicker on the dark desert highway. The headlight of a fast freight train can be seen approaching for fifteen minutes. Dawn breaks and light and shadow play on the surrounding mountains.
We pack ham sandwiches, bottled water and swim suits and head south 110 miles on the motorcycle. We will follow deserted Texas State road 435 to the Mexican border and the Rio Grande River. We're hoping they have a gas station at the end of the trail.
This road was built on the old Comanche Trail. The Comanche came down from the Fort Stockton area and crossed into Mexico to liberate cattle and horses. The US Army shipped 30 camels to this area in an experiment in policing the area in 1859. The start of the Civil War brought this experiment to an end.
The desert gradually changes. We begin to see green cactus with purple flowers. Then we see purple and pink cactus with yellow flowers and things that look like cattails with red flowers.
At first the morning is very cool, but by noon the temperature is over 100 degrees. It feels like a giant hair-dryer is trained on us. Mrs Phred yells in my ear that this is like picking apples on an Israeli Kibbutz.
When you get older, your facial skin gets looser. At 60 MPH, with a 20 MPH headwind, everything flaps rapidly. The skin under my eyes flaps and stings my eyes like being slapped with a wet towel. My cheeks flutter like a southern belle's eyelids.
The Park ranger at the entrance to the Big Bend National Park tells us not to swim in the Rio Grande River. We take a nap under a tree on the river bank. We are alone, except for a buzzard. The water looks cool. I wonder what the problem is. Pesticides? Bacteria? Piranha? Little fish that swim up your urinary tract?
We ask a guy working at the camp gas station about the no swimming rule. He says there is an undertow, the water is not real clean and they don't want you swimming 40 feet into Mexico. He shrugs apologetically.
We return around dark, exhausted, with 225 miles on the trip meter and have a Margarita.